If you work on the client side of marketing you will know that working with agencies can be a challenge. You will have a roster of agencies that you deal with – and many more knocking on the door offering one-off campaigns that just may shake things up (for better and worse). Perhaps you will have an agency of record who will handle the jumble of specialisations that are required to deliver results across a broad swathe of marketing activities. Or maybe you will handle this in-house with marketing, PR, communications, branding and strategy teams all being supported by their own coterie of agencies.
No matter which scenario you operate under, the problem, of course, is that our “audiences” – the customers who buy and sometimes love our products and services – are less inclined to engage with what we have to say. As Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising survey indicated, 78% of consumers are more likely to trust other consumers recommendations ahead of newspapers, magazines and websites. Furthermore, consumers are dividing their attentive time in ever smaller slivers – with the Pew Research Center indicating that we are becoming “news grazers”, spending far greater time getting news and information from online sources than TV.
What are we to do?
Sean Moffitt suggests that client-side marketers need to begin operating like a Zen Master, pulling together your own un-Agency. (Check his description of the different types of agencies for an amusing but also insightful look at this complicated world.) But what might this un-Agency look like?
It's a co-op of equal partners managed by a key client person – a zen master generalist who can pull the appropriate agency levers. The Un-Agency is a marriage of partners that play well together and stay out of each others shorts. It's a hothouse of many ideas that get dreamed up and actually executed. It's a spider web of leading marketing services specialist talent that embeds itself deeply in a company's operations. It is low on bureaucracy and "handlers" and high on "smarts" and "action". Less powerpoint, more insight. More collaboration, less arrogance. More customer/influencer outreach, less boardroom navel gazing. More sustaining value, less flavour of the day. Perhaps paradoxically, more brilliant agency partners not less generic ones.
While I love the IDEA of this un-Agency, it is exceptionally difficult to make this work in practice. All businesses are designed to make money – and agencies are no exception. Put two or three agencies side-by-side and there will be competing interests, egos and revenue targets. But there is no doubt that this type of thing is starting to happen. With agencies coping with the global financial crisis (and the corresponding drop in billings) by laying people off, more and more folks with substantial skills and deep experience are finding themselves in demand. And the smart client-side marketer can now more easily weave together a collaborative group of experienced practitioners without the need (or expense) of working with big agencies. There is even evidence that smaller agencies are employing the same approach to extend their capacity.
Is this the way of the future? I know it works for me.